The challenges of adopting a "Wood First" policy were put before industry leaders this week when Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick spoke at the ForestWood 2018 Conference.

Four years ago Rotorua Lakes Council became the first local authority in New Zealand to adopt the policy.

Forty per cent of New Zealand's total wood production is harvested from central North Island forests within 100km of Rotorua, and forestry and wood processing accounts for about 15 per cent of Rotorua's GDP.

The council adopted the policy in 2014 because around a third of logs harvested each year were being exported in raw form to China.

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It saw an opportunity for economic growth if more wood was processed into local products to compete in national and international markets.

Chadwick's speech topic at the conference in Wellington on Wednesday was the "challenge Rotorua Lakes Council faces to keep Wood First relevant to the community,
investors, and stakeholders when the value proposition for building in wood is still to
gain traction".

Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post afterwards, Chadwick said the Rotorua District was starting to see more of a conversion to wood building but it was "way ahead of the game".

"Once you put the stake in the ground, developers start to get on board, which is exciting, but building standards and earthquake standards from central government are a challenge.

"At the conference, I encouraged central government to adjust legislation to make it easier to use wood in buildings."

Chadwick said cross-laminated timber or CLT was one product that would be used more in construction if building rules were updated.

Minister of Forestry Shane Jones and Red Stag Group CEO Marty Verry on the site of the planned CLT factory opposite the mountain biking carpark in Rotorua. Photo/File
Minister of Forestry Shane Jones and Red Stag Group CEO Marty Verry on the site of the planned CLT factory opposite the mountain biking carpark in Rotorua. Photo/File

She said under the Wood First policy in Rotorua, the council could not make residents and businesses use wood but it could lead by example.

"In terms of council projects, I think through the Housing Accord, our future developments should be in wood. I think wood should be incorporated in the Lakefront and Whakarewarewa master plans and I am trying to encourage that. Wouldn't it be good to have it in the Sir Howard Morrison centre fit-out too?

"In my opinion Housing New Zealand should be using wood in KiwiBuild too."

Timberlands forest management chief executive Robert Green also attended the conference.

He said raw building materials in our forests were an untapped opportunity, and although the government was supportive of forestry, there were some hindrances for wood products in building legislation.

"Certainly under the current rules, it is easier for engineers and construction companies to use concrete methods for commercial and industrial buildings. They are used to those products, but if the rules were tidied up wood would be considered more often."

Red Stag Timber chief executive Marty Verry said forestry was moving from being seen as a "sunset industry" to more of a "sunrise".

"It is at the forefront of solving our housing, construction, economic development, sustainability and environmental challenges."

He agreed building standards for wood should be updated, to speed up the consenting and project flow processes, and to help Kiwis trust wood products and the protections against borer and dampness.

"Certainly we would like the regulations around treatment standards improved. We want to ensure that people can build in timber and be sure it won't decay."

Earlier this month Red Stag announced plans for a new large-scale timber processing in Rotorua that it said would create 40 jobs. The $20 million-plus Cross Laminated Timber plant will be built at its 95ha wood processing site in Waipa.